.hack-athon Part 5: .hack//MUTATION – Change Comes to The World

Your favorite game is full of glitches, and it’s sending players into comas.  It’s up to you to investigate and find out what’s going on, when you aren’t too busy racing Grunties.  You’ve got some special talents and dedicated friends to help you out.  You’re even on a first name basis with the top player, a legendary hacker, and the system administrator.  Sounds pretty far-fetched, but that’s where you find yourself in .hack//MUTATION, the second video game in the .hack series.

One good thing about episodic games is that they rarely repeat the tutorial mode for each game.  That’s a huge benefit here, since the tutorial portion of the first game lasted way too long.  In MUTATION, you jump right in to the action.  You’re essentially picking up right where INFECTION left off, with the same party members, equipment, and skills.  In fact, almost all the side quests from the first game are available to be done here, in case you missed them.  If these .hack games were actually online games, INFECTION would be considered an expansion pack instead of a sequel.  It’s got new features, areas, enemies, characters, weapons, skills, mini games…more of everything, really.

In most cases, these additions greatly improve the game.  New stat boosting items give you freedom in how you play your character, while the new skills and equipment provide the resources you need to play that way.  The new mini-game, Grunty Racing, is a nice diversion, even if it can get frustrating to completely master.  The new enemies can also be frustrating, but in a good way.  With how powerful you were at the end of the previous game, it’s good to have a challenge again.

There are some additions that don’t serve to improve the game, though.  To me, the new characters didn’t really add much.  You only get one new required party member, towards the end of the disc.  The rest are all optional characters, which of course mean they’re super quirky and have no purpose in the plot.  As for the new areas, they’re pretty much the same areas from the last game, only with new names.  If you’ve run through one dark, creepy dungeon in this game, you’ve seen what you’ll be running through.  That’s my biggest complaint about this game, actually.  For all the new features, it still feels like I’m running around in the exact same dungeons as the last game.  In once case, that’s literally true.  In a game with such a small amount of dungeon variety, being forced to replay the exact same dungeons is a huge misstep.

There’s nothing new to say about the graphics, sound, or battle system.  It’s all the same from the first game.  If you liked it then, you’ll still like it.  If you were annoyed by something, chances are you’ll still be annoyed.  Personally, I think they’re fine for the time period the game is from.  Graphics look rough now, but not so bad when put in to perspective.  I found the battle system a little easier to handle this time around, but that’s due to familiarity.

As I’ve said before, the story is the main draw to the .hack games, and this is where things start to pick up.  By this point, you know there’s something going on within The World, and you’re on the right track in looking for information.  The heroes discover more about the Epitaph of Twilight, and you finally begin to see how this mysterious poem is tied in to the game.  And, in case you needed more drama, you’re pulled into a power play between Helba the hacker and Lios the system administrator.  Plenty of plot points start up here, forming an interesting web that beings to cover all of The World.

Overall, .hack//MUTATION is a definite step up from INFECTION.  There’s more to do, and there’s a much more interesting story to encourage you to do it all.  Things are starting to look bad for the players of The World, but they’re looking much better for players of the .hack games.  It’s still a bit tedious and times, but get everything done feels less and less like a chore the deeper into the games you go.  If you’ve come this far into the .hack universe, you’re going to be playing this game, no question.  For newcomers, while you can start here, I don’t recommend it.  Go back and begin from the first game, so you’re better prepared for what’s to come.  Or better yet, just go back to .hack//Sign and immerse yourself in The World.

Score:  4 out of 5

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